August’s Herb of the Month

Mint is a familiar yet surprisingly versatile perennial herb that is easy to grow in most gardens.  It also grows in the wild around the world and the most useful part of the plant are the leaves.

The common name, mMint, usually refers to Spearmint, or Menthe, part of the plant genus Lamiaceae, which includes many other species comprising interesting and distinctive genus with very individual flavour profiles.

For instance, mint sauce can be made with Wolly Mint (also known as apple or pineapple mint) or Bowles mint instead of the mint we are familiar with. These leaves are too course to be used fresh, but combined with vinegar, they give our mint sauce the flavour we all love. Of course mint sauce has been used for a long time, in fact the Romans brought Spearmint and mint sauce to Britain!

What is Mint or Mentha?

A leaf with a tangy, refreshing flavour, many mints are available to grow and buy in the UK but have slightly different flavours (think of the difference in chewing gums flavoured with Peppermint Vs Spearmint). Spearmint has a stronger, more complex aroma. Milder, clearer tasting Peppermint contains menthol, which has a more cooling effect.

Not all plants of the Mentha genus are used for culinary purposes, but many are worth discovering and growing for that special flavour that cannot be found on the supermarket shelves!

Ginger mint has pretty yellow-marbled leaves and a subtle spicy flavour.  Finely chopped, it makes a tangy addition to tomato salads, and also goes well in fruit salads, especially with melon.

Apple and Pineapple mint are sweet and delicate, whereas Watermint is very popular in South Eastern Asia for its strong aroma and can be added to a stir fry at the end of cooking. For the same reason, Korean Mint, with a more aniseed flavour, is used in several dishes.

‘Chocolate’ Mint is said to smell like ‘After Eights’ and is a great addition to cocktails containing Crème de Cacao.

Medicinally many ‘mint’ species are thought to have a lot of health benefits, and different types of mint plants offer a range of antioxidant qualities. Peppermint and Spearmint have been used to help digestion and as a pick-me up for colds and Pennyroyal is used as an insect repellent.

The origins of Mint

Spearmint is native of damp habitats in Europe and Asia, however there are many Mint Species that grow in each continent in the world.

Different Mint species can cross-breed with each other, giving rise to new characteristics and flavour combinations that are expanding all the time!

How are edible Mints used in cooking?

Spearmint is used more frequently for savoury dishes in the West. It combines well with many vegetables such as new potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and peas. A few chopped leaves also give a refreshing ‘lift’ to green salads and salad dressings.

Spearmint is also popular in the Balkans, North African and Middle Eastern cuisines, where it is used both fresh and dried with grilled meats, especially Lamb, stuffed vegetables and rice and is an essential ingredient of dolmas, stuffed vine leaves. Dried mint is sprinkled over hummus and other pulse and grain dishes. Yogurt dressings, such as Tzatziki also includes dried mint.

Peppermint, being more delicately flavoured, can be used in jellies, teas and desserts, also adding fresh flavour to ices and sherbets…and, of course, a glass of English Pimms #1 is always served with a sprig of mint!